The King and I, King's Theatre, Glasgow
The Lincoln Centre Theatre breathes new life into this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic running for 2 weeks at Glasgow's King's Theatre.

Let's face it, "The King and I" is getting on a bit. Originally commissioned in 1950, this classic musical has embarked upon a major tour and you can't help but wonder if it travelled free on the bus! So it was with some trepidation that I attended this production having seen the show several times before and even performed in it as an amateur. The risk was that all those fond, rose coloured memories might be blown away by the septuagenarian reality.

I need not have worried. The production values won me over immediately and the quality of the performances proceeded to take this show to whole new heights! Simply stunning.

Let's start at the top ... Annalene Beechey (as Anna Leonowens) was just perfect. Her characterisation was, of course, immediately posh and principled as you might expect upon first meeting the governess to the children of a royal family. But her relationship with her son and later the children and wives of the royal household quickly soften that persona. Vocally, Ms Beechey hit that oh-so-difficult to achieve sweet spot of perfectly trained clarity tempered by an accessible quality ... certainly not operatic (if that sort of thing puts you off).

Kok-Hwa Lie (as the King of Siam) was wonderfully engaging. His energy was infectious and his sense of fun was there for all to see. The character strikes an almost fearful respect in all of his subjects and yet he retained a child-like inquisitive nature making him incredibly likeable.

Together Anna and the King were ... "something wonderful". The story takes time to develop their relationship. Each argument that they have seems to draw them closer together in mutual respect and, ultimately, love ... but not in the conventional musical sense. The chemistry was magical.

Anna Leonowens was already possibly the strongest female lead character in a musical. This contrasts starkly with the era and stands out as a major theme of the show alongside a fairly blunt anti-racist secondary narrative. Some minor tweaks to the lib have underlined these themes of inequality by highlighting the treatment of women - perhaps to offset some wildly sexist statements from the King and others. This serves to keep the text current and shouldn't upset the musical purists too much.

I'm already stretching the wordcount on this and I haven't mentioned the many other aspects of this show that were great! The supporting cast led by Cezarah Bonner (as Lady Thiang) were very strong. Ms Bonner was a class act in everything she did. The score is, of course, immortal ... but add a harp into the pit and it is elevated to new emotional heights. The simple, solid set was convincing and used to great effect with shimmering light effects transporting us to 19th century Asia. Combined with beautiful costumes and those mesmerising performances you have a show that you can't afford to miss. Don't let this one pass you by!

The King and I
King's Theatre, Glasgow
Tue 28th January - Sat 8th February 2020 (bkg fee)